The graph above shows how much Americans are driving. Because there’s a very strong seasonal pattern, which spikes in the summer, we use this 12-month “moving” series to achieve a smoother line. (Just one of the many options in FRED that helps you choose how to display the data!) We see that mileage has steadily increased over the years, with three exceptions in this sample period: Two were the massive gas price hikes—in the 1970s and 1980s—and the third is the aftermath of the Great Recession. In fact, never has a driving slump been as long and pronounced as this recent one. Does this indicate that something has changed?
The second graph looks at the same series, but this time it’s divided by a measure of population. Now we can see that yearly miles per person peaked around June 2005 at about 13,200 and then dipped all the way down to about 12,000 in March 2014. As of August 2018, it’s a bit higher, at almost 12,500 miles. But it’s been leaning downward again and may decrease even further. Are we seeing a change in commuting and traveling habits? As always, FRED will keep compiling the data so you can stay up to speed on these trends.
How these graphs were created: For the first, search for “miles traveled,” select the moving 12-month series, and click “Add to Graph.” For the second, take the first and go to the “Edit Graph” panel: Search for and add the “civilian population” series, and then apply formula a/b*1000. (Multiplying by 1000 achieves the correct units.)
Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.